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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Is Marxism a pakeha ideology?

Nga Tamariki o Te Kohu, a Tuhoe group, carried out a 64-day occupation at Lake Waikaremoana in 1998, supported by others including the Socialist Workers Organisation. In the 1970s and 1980s Tame Iti was a prominent member of the Communist Party. 
One criticism of Marxism that is often levelled is that it is a Pakeha ideology or "Eurocentric". Marxism, the argument goes, was developed by Pakeha in Europe and therefore looks at the rest of the world through Pakeha eyes.

Since the dominant attitude of Europeans towards the rest of the world (especially Asia, Africa and other colonial areas) was imperialist and racist some of these attitudes rubbed off on Marxism, it is said.

Moreover, Marxism's claims to universal global validity are just part of a wider claim by Pakeha thinkers for the universal validity of Western culture. Other cultures, such as Maori, are seen as invalid or inferior.

It is also suggested Marxists take concepts developed in the context of European history and society and mechanically impose them on non-European societies where they do notfit reality.

It is indeed true that all ideas and theories are social products. They do not fall from the skies into the minds of "great thinkers" but arise from specific historical circumstances and respond to specific social needs.

Validity 
Therefore every theory, including Marxism, is marked by its conditions of origin. It does not, however, follow that the validity of a theory is limited to the time and place of its formulation.

Copernicus discovered that the Earth went around the sun in the 16th century. This did not mean cease to be true in the 17th or 18th centuries. Newton discovered the law of gravity in England. That does not make the law inapplicable in Japan or Australia.

Arab mathematicians invented the zero and the Chinese invented gunpowder. This has not inhibited the use of either in Europe, North America, or Aotearoa. These examples do not prove that the basic principles of Marxism are of international validity, but they do show they could be.

In fact the core ideas of Marx's theory of history - that the driving force of history is the development of the forces of production and the class struggle - were derived not just from European history but from the totality of world history.

That includes the history of pre-antiquity communist societies, which Marx and Engles much admired. Also it is wrong to depict Marxism as part of the dominant 19th century European outlook.

It developed in opposition to that outlook. Part of that opposition was internationalism and opposition to racism and imperialism. There was already an antiracist, anti-imperialist tradition in the working class movement before Marx. Marx deepened that tradition with his call, "Workers ofthe world, unite", his defence of Irish and Polish self-determination and his support for the north in the American Civil War.

In the 20th century Marxists like Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky developed it further with their analysis of imperialism, their opposition to the First World War a their support for revolution in the colonies.

However, the most important argument against notions of "Eurocentrism "is what has happened to capitalism and the working class. Marxism is the theory of the working-class struggle against capitalism. It arose first in Europe because the working class appeared first in Europe.

A global system
But even as Marx was writing, capitalist production was spreading to the rest of the world.

Marx understood this process with complete clarity. In the Communist Manifesto he wrote: "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie [capitalists] over the whole surface of the globe...'

'It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois [capitalist] mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, ie to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.'

Marx's words describe perfectly the process of colonisation in Aotearoa, through which capitalist relations were forced on Maori and Pakeha workers alike.

And today we can see that what Marx predicted has indeed come about all across the globe, perhaps more completely than he ever imagined.

Today there is no country that is not caught up in the net of the world capitalist market, no country where capitalist relations of production are not the dominant relations.

We live  in a world where capital rushes to invest in south China, where Pepsi sells in Vietnam, where BP operates in Colombia and Shell in Nigeria. Marxism as a theoretical guide to workers' resistance to the power of capital and to international workers revolution has relevance and resonance in every corner of the globe - including Aotearoa.

-John Molyneux, first published in Socialist Worker (NZ) in 1997.

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